I know. I suck. But at least I’m in good company. Look at the standings in our Bettor’s Guide. Look at Clemson. Look at Texas A&M. Look at USC.
Look at the first five weeks of this season, in which more ranked teams (34) have lost by this point than ever before in the history of the AP poll. Little makes sense, so how do you make sense of it?
How are Alabama and Georgia the only SEC teams in the top 12? How is undefeated Oklahoma ranked behind Cincinnati? How are five Big Ten teams among the top 11? And how is four-time defending champion Ohio State currently behind two teams in its own conference?
It’s very possible that we will end up with a predictable final four of Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma and Ohio State. It’s very possible that the Big Ten will be left out of the playoff for the third time in five years (Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma/Oregon/Cincinnati). It’s also very clear that No. 3 Iowa has a great path to win the Big Ten and shake up the consistently stale playoff field.
Unlike No. 4 Penn State — which later plays at No. 7 Ohio State and No. 11 Michigan State, and hosts No. 9 Michigan — the Hawkeyes have no more remaining games against ranked teams after hosting the Nittany Lions this weekend.
In the first matchup of Big Ten teams in the top five not involving Ohio State in 24 years, both teams will have trouble scoring. Points will most easily be produced with an assist from an elite defense. Though Iowa’s Spencer Petras has been an uninspiring game manager, he has been intercepted just once through five games, and he has capitalized on his defense (which allows 11.6 points per game) forcing the most turnovers in the nation. Penn State’s Sean Clifford has shown improvement this season, but he has been intercepted in each of his past three games and hasn’t faced a defense this dominant since last year’s 41-21 loss to the Hawkeyes, in which he played less than two quarters and was intercepted twice.
An electric atmosphere in Iowa City will only make it easier for Iowa (-2.5) to cause havoc.
Oklahoma (-3.5) over Texas
Another close rivalry game is ahead, but the favorite still feels like the play. Preseason Heisman Trophy favorite Spencer Rattler is back in rhythm (he completed 22 of 25 passes last week), while Longhorns star running back Bijan Robinson could hit a brick wall against a defense allowing less than 91 rushing yards per game.
Maryland (+20.5) over OHIO STATE
The Terrapins’ face-plant last week in their biggest game in years has eroded nearly all trust in Taulia Tagovailoa. The Buckeyes’ 74th-ranked defense, however, provides an opportunity for the talented quarterback to bounce back from the worst game of his life.
RUTGERS (+5.5) over Michigan State
The Spartans are the overwhelmingly popular bet because they are 5-0 and the No. 11 team in the country. They also haven’t played a team with a winning record yet. Rutgers will be the first, playing with renewed focus following a beatdown from Ohio State and the memory of last year’s win in East Lansing.
Arkansas (+6) over MISSISSIPPI
This matchup looked a lot better before each previously unbeaten team was blown out by one of the two best teams in the nation. The Razorbacks, buoyed by the nation’s eighth-ranked defense, have proven much more, though — they beat Texas and Texas A&M — and should have their way running the ball against a weak front seven.
Georgia (-15) over AUBURN
The Bo Nix you know and love to bet against shall return. After the best game of his career, Auburn’s inconsistent quarterback will face the nation’s best defense, allowing 2.4 yards per carry, averaging 3.6 sacks and surrendering a nation’s-best 110 passing yards per game, following back-to-back shutouts. Don’t forget, Nix was benched just two weeks ago after failing to put the Tigers ahead against Georgia State at home.
Boise State (+5.5) over BYU
With the status of BYU’s top two quarterbacks unknown at the time of print — setting up freshman Jacob Conover for his first start — I’ll bank on the Broncos’ Hank Bachmeier having another big day against the nation’s 86th-ranked pass defense.
SYRACUSE (+6) over Wake Forest
It’s early October. It’s way too early for all of the press clippings giving the Demon Deacons their first ACC title in 15 years. Wake’s mediocre run-stopping unit will face its first true test against Syracuse’s strong ground game (206.8 yards per game).
Michigan (-3.5) over NEBRASKA
The line is suspiciously low, but there is no need to overthink this mismatch. For all of the heat Jim Harbaugh has gotten since returning to his alma mater, he looks like Bear Bryant compared with the opposing former quarterback, Scott Frost, who has gone 15-23 since returning home to Nebraska.
VIRGINIA TECH (+1) over Notre Dame
The Hokies have won four straight home games, have allowed just 17 points per game and have already shut down a far more explosive North Carolina attack. The rebuilt Fighting Irish are who we thought they were.
KENTUCKY (-3.5) over Lsu
Ignore the brand name, and the fact that you couldn’t pick Kentucky coach Mark Stoops out of a two-person lineup. Since winning the national title in January 2020, Ed Orgeron is just one game over .500 (8-7). The 5-0 Wildcats’ fifth-ranked defense will get some much-needed help from Wan’Dale Robinson, who leads the SEC in receiving yards and faces a secondary without soon-to-be top-three pick Derek Stingley Jr.
Alabama (-18) over TEXAS A&M
What’s funniest? 1) In May, Jimbo Fisher, when asked how the Aggies could beat the Crimson Tide before Nick Saban retires, said, “We’re going to beat his ass when he’s there”; 2) The coach who said that is 0-4 all-time against Alabama and lost last year’s meeting by 28 points; 3) The coach who said that is leading an unranked team about to lose its third straight game; 4) The coach who said that earned a fully guaranteed four-year extension and raise (becoming the second-highest paid coach in the country, behind Saban) even though seven years remained on Fisher’s contract.
BEST BETS: Arkansas, Michigan, Kentucky
SEASON (BEST BETS): 30-43-2 (9-6)
2014-20 RECORD: 904-866-15